The Mills Of Westport

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a story about the Mills family.

Their home at 54 North Avenue — just south of Staples High School — was slated for demolition. After more than 200 years, there would be no Millses living on the road.

The century-old Mills home at 54 North Avenue has been torn down.

The century-old Mills home at 54 North Avenue has been torn down.

Millses had been farmers and masons. One helped build the original Staples High School on Riverside Avenue. Yet the family seems to be forgotten. I ended the story:

Other long-lived Westport families have schools or parks named for them. The Mills family does not.

But they truly built this town. Their monuments are the countless stone walls, sea walls and foundations that exist to this day.

The piece sparked the curiosity of Mills descendant Jacques Voris. Eager to learn more of his family’s past, he visited the Westport Historical Society. They had almost nothing.

Voris began digging. He thought that Revolutionary War veteran John Mills (1760-1829) — who built #29 North Avenue, the small yellow saltbox that everyone still admires, as a blacksmith shop for his daughter and son-in-law –was the 1st family member in Westport.

29 North Avenue was built by Homer Mills.

29 North Avenue was built by John Mills.

Voris found, to his amazement, that Millses had lived in Westport for nearly a century before that.

Voris learned that his great-great-grandfather represented Westport in the state legislature, and the man’s son had been first selectman. Voris also discovered that a Mills was one of only 3 police officers killed in the line of duty here.

Now he wants to know even more.

For instance, what about the FL Mills Company? An automobile dealership started in Bridgeport in 1908 by Frederick LeClair Mills, it sold Studebakers for many years.

Bridgeport Post ad from August 11, 1959 mentioned a new location on the corner of Post Road and South Maple Avenue, selling Studebakers, Mercedes Benzes and a variety of used cars.

Voris never knew about the dealership. He hopes “06880” readers have details.

So: If anyone remembers the Mills car dealer — or has any other stories about this storied, but often forgotten Westport family — click “Comments” below.

The Mills family, in a horse and buggy.

Enjoying a horse-and-buggy ride: Ida Edith (Beyer) Mills; her son and daughter Ralph and Mildred, and her granddaughter Shirley Mills. This is from no later than 1928; Ralph died that year.

 

33 responses to “The Mills Of Westport

  1. Jay Dirnberger

    Woodrow Mills is pictured on page 52 in Eve Potts’ book “Westport…a special place”. He is wearing his Civil a Defense uniform and the caption notes his service during the 2nd World War.

  2. Jacques Voris

    Thank you Dan, and thanks to your readers

  3. Chris Carusone

    I don’t know how true it is, but I live on Mills Street. I was told that the land use to be an onion farm. I always thought that the street was named after the owner.

    • Jacques Voris

      That I can tell you. Mills Street was developed by Edward P Mills and it is named for him. He was the born in Westport but moved to Easton, where he was First Selectman.

  4. A Mills family lives on West Parish Road. I know they have lived in town a vvv long time. mmm

  5. Clark Ruff '68

    I just spoke to Jody Mills. He used to live on Cross Hwy. and we went through the Westport Schools at the same time. He just got a computer so he’ll soon be catching up with all of this family history. I remember Homer Mills. He was the policeman who straightened out the mess I made when I smacked up my Mother’s new Camaro in front of the Y one Sunday afternoon in 1967, two weeks after I got my driver’s license. He was a real nice guy.

  6. Lesley Anderson

    I thought Homer Mills lived in the house 54 North Avenue and was a stone mason. More recently Billy Mills lived there, son or grandson? Not sure. Billy Mills graduated from Staples in 1961 or 1962.

    • Jacques Voris

      My uncle Homer “Larry” Mills did not own the house at 54 North Ave. It was built by Charles E Mills, his grandfather and then owned by Billy Mills his brother. Their father (aka Grandpa) was also Homer, and a famous stonemason in his own right.

  7. Bettina Gangi

    Can’t enlighten you about the Studebaker dealership since we arrived locally in 1968, but no one has mentioned how clever and gifted Billy Mills was as carpenter and wood craftsman. He made the most exquisite bird houses. At one time we were given three, all of which have new locations since we moved to our condo home last year and bird residences are discouraged.

  8. don l bergmann

    May this effort continue. Good stuff and, as always, good work Dan and all. Don Bergmann

    • This is another fascinating study of our town’s past…thank you for that. Jacques, your son is so lucky to have a dad and family history as rich and as wonderful as any young man could ever hope to enjoy…our greetings and affection to you both. Dig on!

  9. Jack Whittle

    My friend Jacques – I checked the Town’s Clerk’s Office index for trade name filings for your Mills family members (available on-line, although a visit to the office is usually required to examine the records themselves). Didn’t see anything like a car dealership named FL Mills, but on the topic of automobiles, I did see a trade name filing by Harry Mills 1-19-59 for the name “Cross Highway Garage” – well well well, that’s interesting

    • Jacques Voris

      That is the great mystery Jack. I have asked my uncles, Homer was a police officer when it opened. I have asked my mother, I havef asked former members of the Downshifters, and every old time resident I can. No one remembers it, except the living memory bank Sven. But I can show you the ad for the expansion sale. Corner of State and Maple in Greens Farms.

      • Jack Whittle

        Well, for good measure I checked the ads section of the 1960 and 1961 Staples yearbooks (in my collection) and didn’t see any ads for that place.

    • Morley Boyd

      Jack, I don’t have the info in front of me (I’ll have to dig) but I kinda recall that Harry Mills was indeed associated with the (famous) Cross Highway Garage located at 113 Cross Highway. I’ll see if I can find the report on the place.

      • Jack Whittle

        Well, he is the one who filed the d/b/a for the garage in 1959 – Jacques, I assume Harry is one of yours?

  10. Terry Sauer

    There’s a ‘studebaker drivers club’ with a forum at forum.studebakerdriversclub.com. It has a list of former studebaker dealers. One is listed as ‘F.L.Mills 2316 Fairfield Bridgeport 1954’ There’s a list of Studebaker repair shops from the 1925 NY times which lists the FL Mills dealership in Bridgeport. http://www.studebaker-info.org/Dealers/nytimesoct1925b.jpg.

    Here’s an ad for the FL Mills dealer on State St. in Bridgeport from 1918. http://www.studebaker-info.org/Dealers/flmillsbdrct1918a.jpg

    There are a few more mentions on the ‘Bob’s Studebaker Resource Website’ at http://www.studebaker-info.org/Dealers/page1.html#CT

    No mention of a Westport location.

    • Jacques Voris

      Terry, yes, I knew about the Bridgeport location. The FL Mills company started in Bridgeport in 1908. But on August 11, 1959 in the Bridgeport Post there is an advertisement for a sale at the Greens Farms branch. They opened June 1, 1959 selling Studebakers, Larks, and Mercededs-Benz cars. I swear I am not making this up. I can see the ad. But no one seems to remember this at all.

  11. We purchased the Mills house at 29 North Avenue from Diane and Win Farrell in 1986. There is quite a nice framed photo of some of the Mills family (we were told) in front of the house with their horse and wagon; looked to me from the fashion that it had been taken in the 1890s. We left the picture behind, and I’d like to think that it is still there, in the house, hanging on the wall. I found a reference at some point that described it as one of the “oldest five (six?) saltbox houses in Green’s Farms.” Green’s Farms? I hadn’t thought that North Avenue/Long Lots extended so far. When we bought that little house, legend had it that local “Indians” used to visit, and that the front door was covered by a bear or buffalo skin. We thought it quite incredible when we also heard that long long ago, 13 children had been raised there. We sold it in 1994 when I was merely expecting twins! Having purchased it from a Mills cousin, Diane and Win I heard were, after five generations, the first non-Mills family to live there. All these comments are stories that we heard (with no particular research to back them up) but interesting none the less, and I suppose that’s what stories are! I thought I’d pass them along. Oh, because the ceilings were so low, Win Farrell who is quite tall, remarked that “it is a good house to sit down in.”

    • Jacques Voris

      Jo, I believe I know the picture that you are talking about. If it is the one I think it shows Henry “Hen” Mills and family standing in front of the house with the two older boys standing in the road. A dirt road mind you.
      While we tend to think of Greens Farms as south of the Post Road, originally it extended much further north. The whole section of town bounded by Roseville Road and Cross Highway to the Fairfield line was part of Greens Farms, more or less.
      I know the stories of which you speak, about the “Indians coming to visit” While colorful, I believe they are untrue.
      As for the chain of ownership of the house, it goes like this:
      Daniel Mills built the house in about 1775. This date is supported by the house itself. The manner in which the timbers were sawed and the like suggest a pre-1800 building date. In all the years looking, no one has been able to identify when Daniel bought the land. The theory now and for many years is that he simply found a spot that no one was using and built a house there. Supporting this is idea is the situation of the house between the edge of the property behind it and the bend in the road. It has been called the “Squatter’s House” for many many years (or at least we always called it that). Assuming these dates are correct, Daniel and his wife Abigail Roberts raised 10 children in that house. You have to keep in mind that people in those days didn’t believe they needed nearly as much space as we do today. Forget a room for each child, often children would share a single bed.
      Next comes Hezekiah Mills, son of Daniel. After serving in the War of 1812 he married Charity Mills. She was his second cousin once removed. His grandfather and her great-grandfather were brothers. He was a blacksmith who had his shop a little further up the road, near the lower entrance to Staples (59 North Ave). Charity was also the aunt to Charles Mills who built 17/19 North Avenue. Hezekiah and Charity raised 6 children there.
      In 1848 Hezekiah sold the house to Betsey Ann Batterson, wife of his son William Henry. I have seen this before several time among the Mills at least where the wife legally owns the house. We presume it was done to protect the house from whatever debts the husband might incur. William and Betsey raised 9 children in that house. The number 13 children seems to come from her grandson Elmer.
      Then it is owned by Henry “Hen” Mills. He was the last large scale onion farmer in Westport. Hen and his wife Mary Lillian Hull only had 5 children
      After Hen died, his son Elmer had the house. He sold it to James “Jimmy” Godfrey, his cousin. Jimmy’s mother, Julia, was Hen’s sister. Jimmy was also the father of “Nurse Betty” Godfrey who died recently. It was from Jimmy that I believe Win and Diane acquired the house.

      I am sure that was a lot more than you wanted to know.

  12. Bob Weingarten

    I’ve had many discussions with Jacques dealing with the Mills appearences in the history of Westport. But would like to include a comment about the family and the history of Westport. Added to all the streets mentioned, i.e. North Avenue, etc., in the above comments, there are members of the Mills family, not sure how related to each other, in the following streets of Westport in houses of the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s eras. They include Baker Avenue, Bayberry Lane, Catamount Road, Center Street, Crescent Road, Greens Farms Road, Long Lots Road, Maplewood Avenue, Roseville Road, Turkey Hill Road North and South. I would be glad to supply information as to which houses that have been associated with the Mills family but would need specific requests since this is lots of work, but would be glad to provide for those that are really interested.

  13. Jane Schaefer Johngren

    For additional research on the Mills family I’d suggest checking with the Fairfield historical society – I’m blocking on the new name, sorry. They have quite a few actual genealogies that people have done of local families, plus experts on the staff who have done their own research. Ask for books by Donald Lines Jacobus, who wrote extensively about the families of old Fairfield. I know that Millses married members of the Allen family, of which I’m a member. I’m not sure if they were related but wouldn’t be surprised if they were. There were often a dozen children per family!

    • Your genealogy connection at the Fairfield Museum and History Center is Beth Rose, the Museum Librarian. Very good. Very helpful…
      http://www.fairfieldhistory.org/library-collections/

    • jacquesvoris

      Jane,

      I have been to the Fairfield Historical Society and seen what they have. Sadly, for the Mills family specifically they don’t have very much. The Westport Historical Society is in the same state. If you comb through all their reference material, you will find Millses all over the place, but little coherent compiled information on the Mills family itself. That is part of the motivation behind this effort, to get something in their hands that is just about the Mills, to pull all these references and histories together into one document.

      Yes, my Millses are married to your Allens. In fact, the Allens were the most popular marriage partner for the Mills. A Mills married an Allen 10 ten times that I know about. That isn’t counting the other connections were an Allen was a mother or grandmother of some one a Mills married.

  14. Bob Weingarten

    Just FYI. The Westport Historical Society also has genealogy books on people in Westport, Fairfield and other surrounding towns. Also various books on histories of the towns. We also have various family histories in our files.

    • Jacques Voris

      The Westport Historical Society does have lots of good information, and Sven has been extremely helpful in this process.

  15. Jane Schaefer Johngren

    Thanks for your reply, Jacques. At some point it would be great to compare notes. You and others may know this, but one thing I forgot to mention before is that the city directories for Westport (combined with a couple of other nearby towns, I think) came out every year or two for years and listed not only businesses but where people lived and even what their occupations were in some cases. The Westport Library, and maybe the Historical Society too, have copies of many of them. You are to be commended for your efforts, especially considering how prominent your family has been for so long. This research is fascinating and addicting, but unfortunately there’s never enough time!

    • Jacques Voris

      The city directories are great reading. Names, residences, occupation, people moving and dying. You a real sense of how small a town this used to be.

  16. Jacques Voris

    Well my intrepid fellows, I have found some more information on FL Mills Cars of Greens Farms. First, it was located at 1510 East State Street( Post Road East). It was still selling Studebakers in 1962. This is from old town directories.

  17. Jacques Voris

    And the last bit of information. After looking through the actual printed copies of the town directories, where I could access the “pink pages” that list thing by street, I can tell you this. The location stopped doing business as FL Mills after 1962. In 1963 it was “Westport Auto Sales”, and then in 1964 it was Crest Motors until it closed.

  18. Jacques Voris

    And the last bit of information. After looking through the actual printed copies of the town directories, where I could access the “pink pages” that list thing by street, I can tell you this. The location stopped doing business as FL Mills after 1962. In 1963 it was “Westport Auto Sales”, and then in 1964 it was Crest Motors until it closed.

  19. Kristeen Mills Sabados

    Hi all,
    I am Kristeen Miils Sabados. My great, great, grandfather was Charles Mills. I have a lot of information to make my family’s heritage celebrated in the town. There are so many landmarks that need to be celebrated and honored in my family’s lineage. Sea walls at Compo, Cobbs Mill Inn where I was married and so many numerous walls around town people take for granted. I will go to the town to try and get something started. I’m asking for people also interested into preserving the Mills Heritage in the town to help me. My email is kmsci326@yahoo.com